Kyle Gibson, soon to be a father, also hopes to stick with the Twins
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - It's the first official day of spring training, a time when optimism overfloweth for all 30 Major League clubs.
We can get better. We've got a chance to surprise some people.
Talk to many players, and a common theme emerges about building off last year, or, if it was a tough season, forgetting about it.
But let Twins prospect Kyle Gibson lead the conversation and he'd prefer to tell you about his offseason mission trip to the Dominican Republic, to a small community between Moca and Santiago. He talks about the child he and his wife sponsor financially, 5-year-old Abigail Reyes Diaz.
Gibson, 26, has a chance to crack the Twins' rotation, if things break his way this spring. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia appear to be locks, and Gibson -- along with pitchers like Scott Diamond, Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley -- will have a shot at the final spot.
The former Missouri Tiger has dealt with injuries in his minor league career, including Tommy John surgery in 2011. He's almost too old to be considered a prospect any longer.
But he says living life outside of baseball helps put in perspective the pressure of a possible roster crunch. He lights up when talking about the growth of Abigail's family, and getting to see their collective maturation through the years.
"We started sponsoring her in 2011 so this was the third year that we've seen her. It's pretty cool, my agent sponsors her brother, so we kind of have a connection there. It's not just getting to see her grow up but getting to see the whole family mature and grow up. They go through the same family dynamics as we go through here, they just have a lot less money and a lot less stuff to do it with," Gibson said.
Abigail used to be shy and 'in her shell,' when the Gibsons first met her. "This year, I've got a whole bunch of pictures and videos of her just going crazy and playing dodge ball and having fun with us," Gibson said. "To see her opening up and growing up is probably one of the coolest things."
Gibson and his wife, Elizabeth, are expecting the birth of their first child in early March, in about three weeks.
They don't yet know the sex of the child and they won't disclose names until it is born, that way it will be a surprise for everyone.
It's an important time in Gibson's personal life, as he attempts to prove he belongs on the Twins' roster when spring training is finished.
"It's going to make things hectic every now and then. I'm probably not going to get much sleep but that's part of it," Gibson said. "At some point I'm going to go through it and I'm going to go through it again and we're probably not going to have all of our children in the offseason.
"It's something that's definitely going to throw in a variable but I think I'm ready for it, I'm excited. It's just another chapter of life. Hopefully both things go great and we're going to end up in Minnesota with a new baby and that'd be awesome."
The offseason offers a chance to escape the game, although not entirely. Gibson has been running and working out in Fort Myers since mid-October. He said he's learned to change his mindset, and he felt the moment got the best of him too often last season. He started 10 games and won two of them. He pitched to a 6.53 ERA (5.17 FIP) and had a 29-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 51 innings. Those aren't pretty numbers from someone who formerly may have been considered a future ace.
As for making this year's team?
Life's trials have prepared him for the outcome.
"If at the end of spring training, or March 20 comes around and they say, 'Hey, Kyle, you're throwing great but we're sending you down,' that's going to be life," Gibson said. "It's going to be disappointing if that happens but at the same time, if I go out there and throw as well as I can, that's really all I can do."